An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

February 19, 2014

Winter Walk-Off 2014

     It's time once again for my annual Winter Walk-Off, and this winter in particular needs to be walked off, or better yet, run out of town with an angry mob quick on its heels. Some of you may recall that this meme of mine is a way of to enjoy a little armchair traveling, as I really like seeing other parts of the globe. So show me what your corner of the world looks like. As always, the rules are simple, the rules are flexible.

  • On your own two feet, leave the house and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home (if you want to drive to your walk that's OK too).  Your post does not have to be about gardening or a travelogue, unless you want it to be.  Maybe instead you will find some unusual patterns, interesting shadows, signs of spring, a favorite restaurant or shop, questionable landscaping or local eyesores.  Whatever, just keep your eyes and mind open, be creative and have fun, but don't show anything from your own garden.
  • Post your own Winter Walk-Off on your blog, and link it back to this post.  Also, please leave a comment here when your post is up.  If you have recently written a similar post, you are welcome to recycle.
  • I will keep the challenge open until midnight on March 19th, the last day of winter (or summer for those of you below the equator).
  • Everyone who participates will have a chance to win one of two prizes, and a totally disinterested teenager will randomly draw the names. This year I am giving away some treasure from Virginia's Eastern Shore. One person will win an assortment of hand-selected seashells I pulled from the Atlantic. The other prize is a local delicacy called Crab House Crunch, which my family refers to as Crab House Crack, because it is that addictive.  I will contact the two winners and mail the prizes after the Walk-Off is over. 

  • I hope these guidelines are simple enough and that you will join in.

         Now, please join me on my own Walk-Off, which took place in downtown Norfolk this past Sunday morning. It was a quiet day, and there were only a few people out. Despite seeing the recently scarce sun and clear blue skies, I hope you brought a coat with you, as the temperatures barely made it above freezing. This year I tested the flexibility of my own rules and drove to my starting point at the Pagoda Garden.
    The Pagoda (3)

         This blog has been here many times before, it is one of my favorite downtown spots. I really appreciate its Asian makeover, as I am old enough to remember when this was a giant molasses tank.
    The Pagoda (2)

    Although the city has made strides to diversify its economy, at its core Norfolk is still very much a navy town.
    The Lone Sailor

    USS Wisconsin (2)

    USS Wisconsin (1)

    The Homecoming (1)

         The first time I lived here the downtown waterfront was a mere shadow of its former self. Much of it was a vacant field of rubble interspersed by a few tumbledown, rat infested warehouses and derelict piers. It was a sad place. Fast forward, and it is now an attractive destination and a place people want to call home. At its center is Town Point Park, which also recently had a makeover. Its first incarnation was that of a park forced to function as a festival site. Town Point Park 2.0 is a festival site with a park-like qualities. I'm not sure I like it, a lot of beautiful sycamores were sacrificed to make it happen.
    Town Point Park (2)

    Town Point Park (3)

    Town Point Park (5)


    Working Waterfront

         Soon after I graduated from college, I got a job at the Omni Hotel (now a Sheraton). It was one of the first new structures built on the waterfront in many decades. Never a dull moment, it was a fun place to work, but at the same time it was very stressful. My stint lasted not quite two years, I quit and moved away, swearing never to come back to the hotel or to Norfolk again. Those were words I ended up eating, because years later I did come back to Norfolk, and got a job at the same hotel. That stint didn't end well either, and it was the last hotel job I ever had. 20 years later I still have bad dreams about the place.
    Waterside Sheraton (1)

         A few blocks from the river is one of Norfolk's oldest buildings, St. Paul's Episcopal Church. It survived (more or less) the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and urban renewal. One of Norfolk's most cherished relics is embedded in its wall, a gift from the British.
    St. Paul's (1)

    St. Paul's (2)

         Here is another relic, the Monument to Our Confederate Dead. Every southern town has at least one. In 1951 Norfolk hosted the last Confederate soldier's reunion, when only four very old men were all that remained.
    To Our Confederate Dead (2)

         One last relic for you, the tomb of General Douglas MacArthur, housed in Norfolk's first City Hall. I'm not going to show you the current City Hall, as I have no love for the place.
    MacArthur Memorial

         Are you still with me? Good, one more bit of history, a few pics and then you are on your own.

         Before World War II, Norfolk had one of the country's largest collections of antebellum structures, and if circumstances had been different the city might have been able to draw in tourists the way Charleston and Savannah do. But Norfolk was a casualty of the war. The city was inundated with shipyard workers, sailors and many,many others. It's old homes were carved into apartments and boarding houses, then divided again. Shift workers shared the same bed, one sleeping at night and another during the day. Downtown Norfolk brimmed with rough bars, tattoo parlors and burlesque theaters. The city was ridden hard and put away wet. In response, after the war, the city father's graciously accepted federal dollars for urban renewal and promptly bulldozed half of the city. So much was lost, and with few exceptions the land remained vacant for decades. Finally, downtown has come back to life, and is now one of the most desirable places in the area to live. A new condo or apartment development seems to arise every week, and the downtown music and restaurant scene is lively. It's a vibrant mix of the new and what remains of the old, and a place I am glad to call home. Now if we can only figure out how to hold the rising sea at bay.
    The Customs House

    The Tide

    The Wells

    Granby St (1)


              Thanks for keeping company with me on my Walk-Off. Hopefully you will have one of your own soon.

    February 15, 2014

    Bloom Day - Giving You All I've Got

           If you live anywhere west of the Rockies, than I probably don't need to make any comments about the weather. We all know how supremely awful it has been, especially so for those of us with nary one cell of Yankee blood coursing through our veins. Even though the Norfolk area was one of the few places that dodged this week's white bullet, we were hit by others, and area gardens have suffered. I am certain this is the year many zone pushers will hit the edge of the envelop. The tally in my own garden remains to be finalized, and I will have to wait for spring to see which marginals made it, and which will become fond memories.

         Back in January I could only offer one bloom, but this month I reluctantly picked everything that was blooming. Though I would have rather showed you the blooms in place, a very cold rain was falling this morning, yet again. Below on a bed of variegated Persian ivy (Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart') I have my first hellebore bloom of the season, my first snowdrop (Galanthus sp.), one of many Edgeworthia chrysantha blossoms about to open, an unnamed Viola, and a bloom from my Mahonia x 'Winter Sun' still blooming since January's Bloom Day.


         If you would like to see what other garden bloggers might have to offer for the month, than you should visit Carol, who I guarantee is not the only gardener dreaming of May.

    (BTW, check back with me next week sometime, despite the weather, or because of it, I will be launching this year's Winter Walk-Off. I hope you can all join.)

    February 2, 2014

    Pleasure House Point

         Last weekend we had a break between two nasty spells of winter weather, and on Sunday it was actually sunny and in the low 40's (last winter this would have been considered too cold to venture out). To celebrate a friend and I decided to travel to Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach. she wanted to look for birdlife, which I always enjoy, but I really wanted to see this area's newest preserved natural area. Pleasure House Point sits on a creek of the same name and is part of the Lynnhaven River system where it meets the Chesapeake. The property is a mix of maritime forest, sandy beach, marsh and open water, and just before the great recession was purchased by developers who were eyeing it for a 1000+ housing development. It ended up in the hands of the bank, and through a very collaborative effort it is now preserved for all to enjoy, including the wildlife that calls it home, very welcome news in one of Virginia's most densely populated areas.

    Pleasure House Point (12)

    Pleasure House Point (5)

    Pleasure House Point (2)

    Pleasure House Point (19)

    Pleasure House Point (21)

    Pleasure House Point (24)

    Pleasure House Point (3)

    Pleasure House Point (9)

    Pleasure House Point (8)

    Pleasure House Point (14)

    Pleasure House Point (16)

         The Lynnhaven River was once world renowned for its large, plump and salty-sweet oysters. President Taft famously made such a glutton of himself on these delicacies during a visit to the area, that he declared he felt more like an oyster than a man. They were once so numerous that their reefs were navigational hazards, but no longer. Over harvesting, habitat loss and environmental degradation nearly wiped out the Lynnhaven oyster, but in another collaborative effort, strides are being made to correct this, and the oyster is making a hopeful comeback. They are not the most obviously beautiful animal in the world, but seeing so many made me smile.

    Pleasure House Point (6)

    Pleasure House Point (11)